The Jewish Lobby Israel Needs

By Akiva Eldar

Published November 07, 2007, issue of November 09, 2007.
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The next few weeks may determine the future of Zionism. This is not an exaggeration. If the upcoming Annapolis peace conference ends the same way as the Camp David summit of 2000, the future of the Jewish state will be in jeopardy.

The Israeli people can deal with another deadlock in the endless “peace process.” Indeed, Israel can exist without peace for many years. We have one of the strongest armies in the world, and our economy proved its resilience during the war with Hezbollah. The question is: Will Israel be the Jewish, democratic and moral state at peace with its neighbors that our Zionist ancestors envisioned? Or will the ongoing occupation, and the unavoidable violations of human rights that are an inevitable part of controlling another people, turn Israel into an international pariah?

Fortunately, a clear majority among the Israeli public, as well as in the Knesset, has come to terms with the need to make the hard choice between a big-and-ugly and a small-but-beautiful Jewish state. Even once hard-core Likudniks, such as Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, have realized that the two-state solution is the only way to stop the march of folly toward either an apartheid state or a bi-national state in which Jews are the minority.

Of course, for a two-state solution, as for a tango, you need a partner that is ready to follow the necessary steps. President Mahmoud Abbas and his team have made it clear that they are willing to dance in Annapolis. In fact, they have placed their credibility on the line. There is no guarantee that they would survive a failure at this juncture. If Abbas returns home empty-handed, then the remnants of the Palestinian peace camp may disappear. Hamas, Iran and Al Qaeda are waiting to fill the void. Without a Palestinian partner, the vision of a democratic Jewish state secure in internationally recognized borders would become a fleeting dream.

It is essential that both parties recognize that this is a critical moment. But that alone is not sufficient.

This is one of those instances in which the process is doomed to fail without an honest and active broker. The Camp David summit between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat yielded a land-for-peace treaty between Israel and Egypt because President Jimmy Carter decided to get deeply involved in the negotiations. The Israeli people knew that the United States was fully committed to the agreement and was willing to back it up with the necessary political and military support.

American Jews can make a powerful contribution to helping diplomacy succeed. But doing so will require a break with the past.

We constantly hear that the Jewish community supports Israel — wherever its government stands. For more than 40 years, however, the community’s moral, political and financial power has been mostly occupied in building Israel’s strategic supremacy, and in containing any pressure from American administrations for Israel to change its policies in the territories.

In the early 1990s, Jewish activists were all over Washington, lobbying Congress to confront the first President Bush. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle stood up to the president, who had the chutzpah to push Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to stop expanding settlements as the White House tried to organize a Mideast peace conference. Four years later, as President Clinton was bringing Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat together to douse the fires in the region, Aipac convinced Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole to introduce a bill demanding the American Embassy be moved to Jerusalem.

As we all know, the American Embassy still has not moved to Israel’s capital. It seems it’s much easier to lobby for empty bills than to call for an active American role in the peace process. It’s more popular to sign petitions against “dividing” Jerusalem (how can one re-divide a city that was never really reunited?) than to encourage Prime Minister Olmert to turn the phrase “City of Peace” from a cliché into a reality.

We Israelis who experienced the traumatic days of the eve of the Six Day War will never forget the great support we received at the time from our Jewish brothers and sisters in America. We will always remember the many young volunteers who lined up to get a seat on a flight to Israel.

Forty years later, Israeli flags fly in front of our embassies in Cairo and Jordan. Now, the other members of the Arab League are offering the prospect of opening their own embassies in Israel. Yes, in return for peace, Israel will have to give up the West Bank and Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. In return, however, it will regain its Jewish, democratic and moral values.

As always, the final decision will be in the hands of the Israelis. But the American Jewish community has to decide whether it wants to be helpful in making peace or only in times of war.

Akiva Eldar is a senior columnist for Ha’aretz. He is the co-author of “Lords of the Land: The War for Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007” (Nation Books).


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